the first leg of the el clásico champions league semifinal should have been one of the most epic football matches of all time.
in terms of sheer talent on the pitch at one time, the champions league has probably never seen so much: the two best players, (arguably) the two best teams, and the two of the best three managers in the world (can’t ignore fergie). monetarily, only 9 of the 22 players that started the match are not among the 100 highest paid footballers in the world. the match up between madrid and barcelona is one the most heated rivalries in all of sports, between two of the most storied clubs in all of football. a clash of the titans if you will.
unfortunately, we didn’t get what we all had hoped.
everyone will be saying that the biggest problem in the game was with the way real played. “anti-football” they call it. but it wasn’t. if anyone expected to see a free-flowing spectacle of a match with loads of attacking, well, they’re just stupid.
we were already given two sneak peaks as to how these champions league fixtures would play out. the first example came in the relatively calm league encounter, where neither manager wanted to expose their plans for the matches to come. the second and more revealing sign of things to come came in the copa del rey final. with a trophy on the line, we got to see mourinho’s so-called “anti-football” finally neutralize barcelona’s “total football.”
it may just be me, but how could anyone expect a mourinho-lead team to not play a suffocating/stifling defensive strategy against barcelona? he did the exact same thing when facing the the catalonians while at the hemls of chelsea and internazionale.
at the midway point of last night’s match, the commentators during the halftime shows universally complained about how los merengues weren’t “playing the game” and were “raping and murdering football” (i might have made that last one up, but the point was still being made). really?
look, nobody is going to beat barcelona playing their game. you can’t just go out and buy players and get them to play confidence crushing tiki-taka the way barça do, mainly because it takes years of playing together to develop that cohesion and positional awareness within a side. arsenal play the most similar style, yet they couldn’t even hold a candle to the blaugrana in the first knockout round.
mourinho, however, is the only one who has been able to crack the catalonian code. sure it’s ugly, boring, defensive, and anti-footballish at times. but it can work against barcelona, and that’s why madrid hired him. i don’t think you’ll hear any inter fans or board members angry with mourinho for playing ugly soccer; they’re all too busy trying to drink from their champions league trophy.
(and if i’m being completely honest here, barcelona’s tiki-taka system can produce some pretty big snoozers too. they have so much possession of the ball, particularly after they score, that the game often becomes pointless to watch. it’s the same thing as watching a blowout in basketball: after a while, it’s just not that fun to the neutral viewer.)
so to all of the pundits and fans out there decrying mourinho’s tactics, take a hike. what would you rather barça’s opponents do: roll over and concede the games before their played? get out of here. that would kill the game.
all that said, the media do seem to be ignoring a rather large part of the barça persona, and it is, in my opinion, a hugely troublesome issue.
barcelona’s incredible dominance of, brilliance in, and flag bearing for the beautiful game has rightly earned them a massive, worldwide following. the effect of their rise to the appex of the sport will be felt for years to come, as a million future little messis, xavis and piques are being heavily influenced by their style of play and club ethos. unfortunately though, they’re not all learning good habits.
what the media is largely ignoring, and i’m taking such an issue with, is that barça are a completely ethically horrible team. they dive, simulate, bitch, moan and harass more than any other side in the world. instead, they pay loads of attention to how mourinho thinks there’s a referee conspiracy, real madrid play anti-football, or collectively kissing barcelona’s blue and red striped ass.
fifa have made it pretty clear lately that they intend to eliminate diving from the game. yet, the crown jewel in the club game’s stable regularly employs some of the most ridiculous divers out there (ronaldo/nani/ibrahimovic aside). pedro, sergio busquets, dani alves were all at the top of their simulation game during yesterday’s el clásico. and the trio, along with regular offenders like david villa and mascherano, have been using these dirty little tricks for quite some time. especially busquets.
on top of that, anytime there is a decision that could go against one of their opponents, their entire team crowds around the referee. you’ll see them there, pleading with and pressuring the official to give their foes the yellow/red card they so “rightfully” deserve. isn’t this something the governing bodies were trying to rid the game of, as well?
so not only are barcelona’s players actively trying to earn the opposition cards by simulating non-existent fouls, but they follow that up by pressuring the referee to give a card for a foul that never happened.
why are they doing this?!?! this is a team that doesn’t need to cheat to win. they’re already good enough to beat everyone fair and square.
and while their style of play does seem to “invite” the other team to foul (either through frustration of never having possession, getting rough with their own tackles, or by releasing the ball just as the other player is about to tackle), it’s not an excuse to fake a foul that they thought would happen.
not that i can prove otherwise, but if this is tactical directive from guardiola, i’ve lost a lot of respect for him. when mourinho says things like the following, it makes you a little more suspect:
let’s hope he gets the chance to win a clean champions league, without scandals.
what fifa, uefa, and the media don’t see is that, by ignoring this issue, they are only undermining their efforts to clean up the game. if a million child/teenage barcelona fans that were watching the game learned anything from yesterday’s match, it’s that they can earn the other team a card if they only make the effort. try to fake a foul. try to pressure the referee. try to cheat. the effects of these lessons will continue to ripple through the world of soccer just as long as all of the positive things that the blaugrana bring to the game.
you’ll never be able to rid your sport of it’s evils if you allow it’s greatest spokesman to be it’s biggest cheat.